Petaluma catering company’s secrets to the perfect pot pie
The history of the humble pot pie stretches back to the Neolithic Age. The Greeks are believed to have enjoyed a meat pie in 9500 B.C. that was baked in an open pastry shell.
That dish eventually caught on with the Romans, spread across Medieval Europe during the Crusades and then enjoyed a revival in the 16th century among the English gentry.
Soon after, the savory pie obsession spread to the New World, especially in the chilly reaches of New England. Homesteaders took it westward in their wagons.
By 1951, the pot pie had been reinvented again by C.A. Swanson & Co., which created a frozen chicken pot pie that many baby boomers recall fondly along with the company’s frozen meal in a tray, known as TV dinners.
Now, nearly 70 years later, Chris and Ciara Greenwald of Bay Laurel Culinary, who own a catering company in Petaluma, are updating the frozen chicken pot pie with a California twist, sourcing only the best ingredients for the crust and filling to create a hearty, nourishing chicken pot pie that can freeze and bake well.
“We have been trying to develop a double-crust pot pie for almost a year,” said Ciara, a pastry chef who hails from Dublin County in Ireland. “We wanted to make sure when you took the pie out of the oven and rested it for five minutes, it would come out of the tin easily.”
During their testing, the couple sent pies home with friends and then sought their feedback. There were many questions to answer: How thick should the dough be? How much gravy should there be? And will it hold together without getting soggy?
“We wanted to make it foolproof for people, because you’re baking your own pie, and we wanted to make sure it would work in different ovens,” Ciara said. “We wanted people to take the pie out and plate it themselves and have it look beautiful. We just want the perfect chicken pot pie.”
Now that the testing is over, the growing ranks of Bay Laurel Culinary customers can pick up, bake and enjoy the savory pies all winter, as long as they get their orders in early.
“We have a waiting list right now,” Ciara said. “One week a month we will spend making them and freezing them all.”
The pies are labor intensive, like so many delicious things are.
“It’s so many steps,” Chris said. “You make the stock, you make the filling and cool it and the dough is made and it’s cooled overnight.”
As the savory cook, Chris is in charge of the filling, which is chockablock with carrots, celery and peas along with pasture-raised heirloom chicken from Cooks Venture in Arkansas.
“They’re antibiotic-free,” Chris said. “We start our stock with cold water and chicken and vegetables. Then we put all the bones back, and that becomes our stock base.”
The most labor-intensive part, Chris said, is chopping the vegetables and picking the chicken. Then he makes a roux and adds the chicken stock back in to create a rich white gravy.
Meanwhile, Ciara works on the crust, which reminds her of the steak and kidney pies she grew up with that were made with sturdy short-crust doughs. Her main piece of advice? Don’t overthink it.
“Pastry dough is one of those things where people overcomplicate it,” she said. “If you don’t overthink it, the most important thing is the ingredients.”
Bay Laurel Culinary uses the organic baker’s craft flour from Keith Giusto’s in Petaluma, Clover butter, salt and water.
After that, the key is to keep everything “religiously” cold to the touch, at every step of the pie.
“I naturally have really cold hands, and that helps,” Ciara said. “I chill the stainless steel bowl ahead of time. I chill the flour in the bowl and I chill the butter.”
Beyond that, she just brings the dough together so it holds, lets it rest overnight, which improves it by letting the gluten relax, then rolls it out as gently and quickly as possible, forming the pie tops and pressing the bottoms into the tins.
Even then, it’s still crucial to keep everything fully cold. The tins go back in the fridge, where the filling is cooling, and then everything is brought out again, scooped into the pie and sealed.
“We make sure the filling is the same temperature as the dough,” she said. “Otherwise it will start to melt that butter, even if it’s at room temperature.”
Once the pies are done, they all go into the freezer, for enjoyment as part of weekly family meals or on their own.
Although you can make the pot pies in a regular pie pan, the couple prefers to use smaller, 5-inch pie tins they order from Norpro which serve one to two people and make four to five pies instead of one.
“The first time we made them, I made mini ones and baked off two and froze three,” Ciara said. “We are not going to eat an entire pie, so I like to make them small.”